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Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Collector's Edition

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a pitch-perfect film. But what pitch is being sounded here, precisely? Most of the comments one reads about CE3K dwell on its beautifully realized "We Are Not Alone" hookum and its wishful thinking about benevolent aliens and its stick-in-your-eye images and its nearly wordless final act and its music and its follow-your-dream humanism and of course its Douglas Trumbull-crafted special effects (which are probably the best-aged special effects of all time — other than maybe 2001's, a film on which Trumbull also worked). But none of that gets at the movie's dark heart: CE3K is, first and foremost, an apologia for artistic obsession — a fantasy that says it's okay to abandon your family, break the law, and destroy other people's property in pursuit of your dreams. In fact, the movie goes so far as to reward its obsessed protagonist with a literal glowing Nirvana. The stripped-down plot is fascinating in that is contains a great deal of conflict, but no clear antagonists — instead, it features two groups of obsessed protagonists, each racing toward a final confrontation with alien life, each distrusting the other. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is a lowly power-plant employee (and nascent child-man, obsessed with "Pinocchio" and toy trains). He sees a UFO and is subsequently obsessed by the image of a mountain — an obsession that drives him to make ill-placed sculptures, which drive his harridan wife (Teri Garr) and beastly children to abandon him as a "crybaby" nut-case (in scenes that any child of divorce will find deeply painful to watch). But Roy's suffering is short-lived — as his disbelieving family is conveniently replaced by one better-suited to his consumptive mindset. Flaky single mom Gillian (Melinda Dillon), who's lost her son (Cary Guffey) to an alien kidnapping, ends up joining Roy on a cross-country journey to Devil's Tower, where UFOs are about to be officially received by a government team led by the equally obsessed Frenchman Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) — a man who, along with his tweedy interpreter (Bob Balaban), has spent the film tracking down clues and interviewing witnesses in preparation for a climactic alien encounter. (Of course, this being the movies, the aliens' universal language isn't numbers, it's music — and music scored within Western scale parameters, to boot.) All of this builds to a frantic chase and effects-filled denouement, with climax piled upon climax — and with Roy's fixation rewarded by (a) a smooch from his more-understanding "wife" and (b) the chance to abandon everyone and "step into the light." And so there you have it: a beautifully lensed tale of neglectful parents, unhappy families, and a retreat into creativity; the metaphor for driven artistic types is obvious. In fact, all Spielberg's personal obsessions are at play here — making CE3K his most personal film besides E.T. and Hook (a film about a man who also struggles with a childlike obsession, but ultimately turns back to his kids). All the Spielberg tropes are here in full force: wonder, all-consuming passion, absent father figures, youthful optimism, suburbia, magical salvation, the slow reveal. It's powerful, powerful filmmaking. Arriving in May 2001, Columbia TriStar's two-disc set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Collector's Edition contains the final cut released to home video and Laserdisc in 1998, with a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and audio in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1. While there aren't quite as many hard-core goodies as some fans would like — a score-only track would have been nice, given CE3K's abuse of music as a thematic device — supplements include the 1:47 documentary "The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind," 11 deleted scenes, the 1977 featurette, theatrical trailers for the original release and 1980 "Special Edition," and THX Optimode calibration. Dual-DVD digipak in paperboard slipcase.
—Alexandra DuPont

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